It’s not a secret Disney likes to use real life references when creating characters for its most famous animated movies. But did you ever stop and think that our beloved Disney locations like the amazing city of Agrabah were also inspired by existing places? Yep, that’s right! Disney’s creative team was inspired by actual castles, villages, and natural wonders, transferring them onto the silver screen in a beautiful animated form. Here are 8 real-life locations used in Disney movies.
Mulan – the Forbidden City, Beijing
Mulan’s Imperial City that became the setting to her final battle with the Hun’s leader was heavily inspired by the actual Forbidden City located in Beijing. Chinese emperors have been living on this UNESCO-protected site for several hundreds of years starting from 1420. The resemblance is striking!
Moana – Samoa
The gorgeous natural landscapes of Moana are the spitting image of South Pacific vistas. Jon Musker and Ron Clements, the directors of the movie, wanted to create an authentic feel that was based on existing cultures of the Pacific. The fictional Polynesian island of Motunui that served as home for Moana and her fellow islanders is a result of research conducted mainly in Samoa and Tonga. Directors travelled to these places themselves!
Tangled – Mount Saint-Michel, Normandy
Laurent Ben-Mimoun, a French artist responsible for the concept art of Tangled, did an incredible amount of work, exploring the Renaissance castles to create the one Rapunzel lives in, and using Mount Saint-Michel in Normandy as a reference to create the fairytale-like city she ended up travelling to. It’s a beautiful mix of ancient and modern architecture!
Brave – Eilean Donan Castle, Scottish Highlands
Scotland is a truly breathtaking country, so no wonder the creative team behind Brave went on a research tour to gather up some references for the future-to-be castle of rebellious Merida. The exterior of DubBroch castle was taken from the real life Urquhart Castle that’s located on the banks of the mysterious Loch Ness. The interior, though, was drawn from the picturesque 13th century Eilean Donan Castle.
The Little Mermaid – Château de Chillon, Lake Geneva, Switzerland
Chateau de Chillon in Switzerland is a popular historic destination and has been in use for hundreds of years starting from the Bronze Age. It’s been used as an arsenal, prison, count’s residence, fortress, and even became an inspiration for Lord Byron’s poetry at one point in time. No wonder Disney’s team also wanted to use its beautiful imagery and turned the famous castle into Prince Eric’s home.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame – Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris
This doesn’t really come as a surprise, given the movie’s name and main setting, that the cathedral in the Hunchback of Notre Dame is the very same Cathédrale Notre Dame located in Paris – at least, what it looked like before the horrendous fire that crippled its architecture. The artists behind Hunchback masterfully transferred the actual building into an animated form with all its stained glasses, gargoyles, and buttresses.
Sleeping Beauty – Neuschwanstein Castle, Germany
If you’ve ever visited the Neuschwanstein Castle in Germany, you know how similar it looks to the one located in the very heart of Disneyland in Anaheim. Yep, Mr. Walt Disney himself was inspired by the sprawling beauty of the Romanesque Revival structure while travelling around Europe. The Sleeping Beauty’s castle is also an homage to the breathtaking Neuschwanstein Castle.
Aladdin – Taj Mahal, Agra, India
While the city of Agrabah, the main setting of Aladdin, isn’t located in India, the main palace is heavily inspired by none other than Taj Mahal in Agra (you can also spot the not-so-slight reference in the name of the Agrabah city itself). While Taj Mahal isn’t really a palace, but rather a tomb sultan built for his wife that has passed away, it still makes sense as the Aladdin’s sultan is also a widower and Jasmine kind of hates the place, regarding it as her prison.